As any loving parents would, Chad Smith and fiancée Grecia Guzman will have serious matters on their minds when their baby boy, Klayton, undergoes surgery late next month on his cleft lip.
One thing they won’t have to worry about is medical bills. Klayton, born June 28 with a cleft lip and palate, is being treated by Shriners Hospitals for Children, which will pick up whatever costs aren’t covered by Medi-Cal.
“We felt very grateful we got accepted to Shriners Hospital,” said Smith, who works at The Fruit Yard restaurant east of Empire. “We were through-the-roof grateful and we felt like regardless of not having to pay medical bills, we wanted to give back, whether that meant going up there and volunteering or making a monthly donation.”
What Smith and Guzman, who also works at the restaurant, arrived at was holding a benefit dinner and comedy show last month. Through ticket sales, raffles and donations – including a particularly generous one – the event raised $10,200. The Ceres family drove to the Sacramento hospital last week to present the check.
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When Klayton was born, the cleft palate didn’t come as a complete surprise to his parents. Twice on sonograms, they saw what looked like a line on his lip. They didn’t bring it up, figuring medical staff would, were it a concern. During the second sonogram, the woman giving it did bring it up, but said it was simply a shadow from the umbilical cord.
It’s cosmetic, something we both realized could be far worse. It could be organ issues, or the brain. The fact that it’s just the lip and the palate, we feel pretty blessed.
“In the back of our minds, it was there” from the first sonogram, Guzman said, “but it eased our minds a little that she brushed it off. So when the birth came around, it was really emotional.”
Klayton’s cleft lip has not been a problem, Guzman said, but his cleft palate initially caused some feeding issues. “Now he’s really good at it, but at first he didn’t have any suction,” she said. “We stayed in the hospital two extra days because he wasn’t eating well. We had to use special bottles and do the work for him, kind of pushing the milk to the back of his throat.”
Cleft palate affects about one in 700 children, Smith said. Describing it, he said, “Put your tongue to the roof of mouth, and down the middle he has a big gap – it’s wide open. The roof of his mouth never conjoined. His mouth and his nasal (cavity) are pretty much connected.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children with a cleft palate often have problems with feeding and speaking clearly and can have ear infections. They also might have hearing problems and difficulties with their teeth.
“He’ll require speech therapy for sure, and dental work because there’s a gap in his gum line. He’ll probably have to have a bone graft for that,” Smith said. But by the time Klayton is in his late teens or early 20s, his dad said, surgery should be in the past. The only reminder he’ll have is the trace of plastic surgery he’ll see when he looks in the mirror.
Though the lip surgery is in late November, the palate operation will wait until Klayton is a bit bigger – maybe 10 months old. In the meantime, he’ll soon be on solid foods – another learning curve. “They said we could start him on solids as early as 4 months,” Guzman said, “so we want to start him right at 4 months because it will take him even longer” to get the hang of eating.
Looking back on the fundraiser, the couple said they’re grateful to their comic friend, Anthony K, for doing the show; to Fruit Yard owner Joe Traina, who “pretty much gave us full control” to run the fundraiser; to family and friends who sought prize donations and gave their time at the benefit; and to donors, including a Fruit Yard regular, Dwight Trammell, who left a $5,000 check in an envelope on Smith’s desk at The Fruit Yard.
The couple intend to have a comedy show and dinner become an annual fundraiser for Shriners Hospitals. They want to bring smiles while helping the hospital that literally is shaping the smile on their little boy’s face.
That smile was there Tuesday as Klayton was held by his mom at the restaurant. “He’s actually super happy all the time, insanely happy,” Guzman said.
Added Smith, “He has a smile on him all the time. He’s got a personality to him.”
Deke Farrow: 209-578-2327